What’s green, herbalicious, and a punchy accent to any plated meal? Cilantro! No, parsley!
Both parsley (Petroselinum crispum) and cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) are leafy herbs, but their aromas and flavors differ wildly. And since not all herbs are created equally, just how different are parsley and cilantro?
Parsley vs. cilantro at a glance
Taste: Parsley is fresh and mild. Cilantro has a spicy, zesty kick that some folks say smells like soap.
Leaves: Both are bright green with long stems and small flat leaves. Cilantro has more round-tipped leaves.
Health and nutrition benefits: Both herbs are low cal and antioxidant-rich. But, parsley’s vitamin K content gives it a slight health edge.
Fresh and green? Check. Tasty? Well… depends on who you ask! Here’s a head-to-head comparison of parsley and cilantro.
You can thank cilantro for that zest in a spoonful of fresh guac (and the tomatoes and peppers and lime juice…). Cilantro has a stronger aroma and flavor than parsley. It’s often described as spicy and citrusy. Some folks also say it smells and tastes like soap (more on that later).
Parsley, on the other hand, smells and tastes lemony and fresh. It’s often used to round out garlic dishes with a simple note of fresh, herbal flavor.
Both parsley and cilantro are bright green herbs with long stems and small flat leaves.
Technically, parsley comes in three varieties: curly-leafed, flat-leafed, and root parsley. In this article, we’re focusing on flat-leafed parsley since that’s the most common supermarket variety.
Cilantro also grows in a few varieties. The type most common at grocery stores in the U.S. has bright green, round-tipped leaves and a strong smell.
At a glance, parsley and cilantro are *almost* twinning. The main visible difference is that parsley leaves are pointy, while cilantro has rounded, fan-like leaves.
Herb origins: Where do they come from?
Both parsley and cilantro are widely available, but that wasn’t always the case.
Good ol’ Encyclopedia Britannica tells us that parsley originated in Mediterranean regions. It likely got its culinary start in Roman and Greek kitchens.
Cilantro also hails from Mediterranean and Middle East regions. This zippy herb goes waaaay back in Latin American, Indian, and Chinese cuisine.
TBH, the easiest way to nosh on parsley or cilantro is raw. All the green stuff is edible, though some peeps don’t love parsley’s tough stems.
When it comes to cooking, parsley is the name of the game. Unfortunately, cilantro loses most of its peppy flavor when boiled or steamed.
Some parsley fan faves:
- chopped parsley scattered on grilled veggies, meats, and pasta dishes
- mixed into couscous, quinoa, or other grain dishes
- minced and thrown on baked potatoes, roasted chicken breast, or other hot entrees
- parsley pesto
Some cilantro fan faves:
- chopped and sprinkled on your favorite Mexican or Thai food
- blended into creamy dips like guac or tahini
- sprinkled on tossed salads or fresh salsa
Both herbs are low cal, low carb, and low fat.
The biggest difference is parsley’s mega helping of vitamin K. Seriously, just 1/4 cup offers like three times your recommended daily vitamin K. That’s good news for bones, heart, and blood clotting!
Here’s a look at 28 grams (about 1/2 cup of chopped herbs) of parsley and cilantro.
|Parsley||Cilantro||And the winner is…|
|Protein||1 gram (g)||1 g||It’s a tie!|
|Carbs||2 g||1 g||parsley!|
|Fat||trace||trace||It’s a tie!|
|Vitamin K||383% of the Daily Value (DV)||72% of the DV||parsley!|
|Vitamin C||41% of the DV||8% of the DV||parsley!|
|Vitamin A||13% of the DV||10% of the DV||parsley!|
|Folate||11% of the DV||4% of the DV||parsley!|
Cilantro can be about as polarizing as mom jeans versus skinny jeans. In fact, whether you love or hate cilantro is also based on
jeans — ahem, genes.
One study found a link between folks who think cilantro tastes like soap and folks who have a variation on olfactory gene OR6A2. OR6A2 specifically relates to how you smell a chemical called aldehyde, which is found in cilantro.
Fun fact: Researchers are finding that lots of food preferences can be traced to genetics. The more you know 💫.
But what if cilantro makes my mouth feel funny?
Tasting like soap is one thing. Swollen, itchy lips are way more serious. Cilantro allergies are rare but not impossible. Signs of a cilantro allergy include:
In rare cases, a soapy taste and funky mouth feel can indicate overexposure to sodium fluoride — also a reason to ring your doctor.
Like most herbs, parsley and cilantro have been used for cooking *and* home remedies.
Here are the health benefits of these little herbs.
- They’re both packed with polyphenols. Polyphenols are antioxidant plant compounds known to help protect against inflammation and disease.
- They might both help control blood sugar. Older studies on animals suggest that both cilantro and parsley had antihyperglycemic effects. That means eating it lowers blood sugar, at least for rats. That’s super cool, but we really need human studies to confirm the link.
- They’re both good for your heart. The antioxidants and vitamin C in parsley may help dial down your risk of heart disease. And older research suggests that coriander (the seeds of the cilantro plant) can reduce artery-clogging cholesterol. Cilantro’s pungent flavor might also help you slash salt consumption, which can be a heart-healthy move.
- Parsley might strengthen your bones. Remember that megadose of vitamin K? Parsley offers a heaping helping of this bone health boosting nutrient.
- Cilantro could reduce inflammation. One of the plant compounds in cilantro is called quercetin — and research suggests that when peeps with inflammatory conditions like arthritis take quercetin, they feel better.
- Parsley might have anticancer effects. Cilantro might have quercetin, but parsley has the a flavonoid luteolin, which science says may help fight lung, breast, glioblastoma, prostate, colon, and pancreatic cancers.
- Parsley might calm tummy troubles. Got gas? Eat some parsley. Research suggests that parsley (along with herbs like dill and basil) can tame your toots and relieve painful bloating.
P.S. A lot of the benefits are based on old research and animal studies. So it’s best to take these comparisons with a grain of salt. Plus, nutrition composition (and related health perks) change depending on whether the herb is raw or cooked.
Cilantro and coriander both come from the same plant: Coriandrum sativum.
North American chefs and supermarkets refer to the plant’s parts like this:
- cilantro = the leafy green stuff
- coriander = the dried seeds of the plant
So, WTF is cilantrol?
Some essential oil suppliers sell cilantrol. That’s not a scientific name, BTW. It’s also just a blend of coriander oil and cilantro oil — aka, oils from the whole coriandrum sativum plant.
Hungry for some green parsley goodness? Dig in to these dishes:
Can you sub parsley for cilantro?
You can, but should you?
These leafy greens have very different flavors, so a recipe that calls for parsley won’t taste remotely the same if you use cilantro (and vice versa).
Wanna add more cilantro to your diet? Try these fun recipes:
- classic veggie guacamole
- black bean soup
- cilantro lime chicken soba noodle bowls
- creamy cilantro lime salad dressing
- Instant Pot cilantro lime pulled chicken tacos
Keep ‘em fresh!
Bought more green goodness than you can use in a day?
- Keep parsley fresh by rinsing, patting the leaves dry, and refrigerating it wrapped in a paper towel placed in a plastic bag.
- Keep cilantro fresh by putting it in a jar with water (like a bouquet!). Cover the jar loosely with plastic, then pop it in the fridge. Fun fact: You can grow herbs like this too!
Honestly, there’s no clear winner because both of these little green herbs are yummy, healthy, and full of antioxidants and vitamins. It all comes to personal preference.
- If you’re one of the folks who think cilantro tastes like soap, there’s good news! Parsley is just as healthy and offers *more* vitamin K!
- If you love snacking on guac and zesty, cilantro-laden foods, go for it! Cilantro is a great natural source of vitamins and fun flavor.
- If you wanna incorporate alllll the green goodness into your diet, grab a bunch of both parsley and cilantro on your next grocery run. You can’t go wrong with these tasty herbs!